By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders meet in St. Lucia for their annual summit from Wednesday with foreign policy coordination topping the agenda of their three-day deliberations.
Host Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony, whose St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) won the November 2011 general election, will take over the chairmanship of the 15-member regional integration movement from Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse for the next six months.
He has already made it known that the development of a foreign policy is something that he will be leading in terms of his chairmanship.
A statement issued by the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said that the leaders will be examining the thrust of the Community’s foreign policy approach given the on-going changes in global political and economic circumstances.
“These changes pose challenges to the continuing development of the Community as well as for the practice of the Community’s external and political relations. However, they also create opportunities that can be exploited to the benefit of the Community,” it said.
The Secretary General of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas along with his counterparts from the Commonwealth Secretariat Kamalesh Sharma and the Organisation of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza will meet with the leaders in the northern town of Gros-Islet.
Veteran journalist Rickey Singh, who writes extensively on CARICOM, said that Chambas visit should provide the regional leaders with a “critical assessment” of the changing priorities by the European Union, currently in the throes of an economic crisis that could negatively impact the Caribbean.
But last month, the EU assured the ACP countries that it would not reduce its level of assistance to them despite the ongoing Eurozone economic crisis and fears by the developing countries of a loss in access to European markets after 2014.
“It is fair to say that the European Union is experiencing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. Nevertheless, I am glad to underline that the EU has maintained its position as the biggest global donor for official development assistance,” President of the European Council, Christian Friis Bach, told the 37th session of the Joint ACP-EU Council of Ministers meeting in Vanuata.
However, Bach also made it clear that Europe was developing a new paradigm as outlined in the EU document titled “Increasing the Impact of EU Development Policy: An Agenda for Change” which sets out new directions on how to better address new challenges to development cooperation and deliver greater impact. Trade matters among the 15-member grouping are also expected to feature at the summit here with Jamaica recently raising again the issue of unfair subsidies to Trinidad and Tobago manufacturers.
That country’s opposition spokesman on industry Karl Samuda told Parliament recently that Kingston isn’t really benefiting from CARICOM and urged that a decision about leaving the bloc be made in the near future.
But CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, who will be attending his first full fledged summit since his appointment last August, said at the end of his visit to Jamaica last week that the single most important reason for keeping CARICOM alive is to serve the development of the region.
“It can't be anything but that,” he said, adding that Jamaica can't survive on its own and, as such, he doesn't foresee the country pulling out of the regional integration movement.
"Jamaica is going to have difficulty going it alone. Jamaica is going to experience difficulties if it goes slower than the rest, and I do not think that it is an option that is even on the table. I think the option is to fix the problems that exist as is perceived by Jamaica, between Jamaica and its partners, and I don't think that it's insurmountable,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that “the issues that Jamaica has raised need very real attention; and I think (it) will be given," LaRocque said, adding that he left Kingston “in a very positive mood”.
Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar, who is also making his debut appearance at the full fledged summit, remains optimistic and hopeful that the momentum towards regional integration will accelerate despite what he described as frustration by some at the pace of the process.
“I still think that we have covered some distance from that time and hopefully in this international atmosphere of globalisation, that that pace will pick up,” he said prior to leaving Georgetown.
The much-heralded CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of people, goods, skill and services across the region, but hampered by various bottlenecks, will again be a matter on the agenda, even though the leaders at their last summit in St. Kitts agreed that there was need for a re-thinking of some aspects of the initiative.
LaRocque admitted that “a lot of time and energy, mental and physical, has been invested by this Community in building this enterprise. Much progress has been made but I will admit we have a way to go still.
“The design of the CSME as envisaged by the Revised Treaty caters for greater cross border investment and production integration within the Community thereby laying a platform to be able to compete in the international trading arena.
“Perhaps we may have been a bit too theoretical in our approach to the construct of the CSME. We need to take stock of where we are and be more strategic as we seek to advance the work related to the CSME.
“For example, if job creation and competitiveness are among the objectives of CARICOM, as they are, we need to ask ourselves what can we do collectively to achieve these goals and act decisively in that direction. This is a work in progress and we will be consulting with stakeholders in the near future,” he added.
The leaders will have before them a report of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on the CSME meeting here this week. In addition, the summit here will also discuss the on-going reform process within CARICOM, developments in Haiti, which still recovering from the 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and left more than a million homeless and the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
In recent months, there have been favourable statements by Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago towards the CCJ and the regional leaders will no doubt use the summit here to impress on other Caribbean countries to ensure that the Port of Spain based court replaces the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court.
West Indies cricket could also be a talking point here, particularly given that it has been five years since the “Governance Committee on West Indies Cricket Report” as prepared by the Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson.